EuropaCorp to Lay Off Bulk of Theatrical Distribution Staff, Reveals What’s Next for ‘Valerian’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Valerian and the City of a
Courtesy of STX Entertainment

After a series of film flops such as “Miss Sloane” and “Nine Lives,” EuropaCorp knew it needed to shake up its distribution system before the release next summer of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” With a budget of more than $170 million, the sci-fi epic is one of the most expensive independent films ever made. It’s also a passion project of EuropaCorp founder Luc Besson, who directed the movie.

On Tuesday, EuropaCorp announced that it was bringing in STX Entertainment, the studio behind “Bad Moms” and “The Gift,” to oversee the marketing and distribution of “Valerian.” The two companies have signed a multi-year pact that will find EuropaCorp outsourcing its theatrical distribution team.

“Due to Luc’s track record and the excitement surrounding the upcoming release of ‘Valerian’ and a number of other factors, we found ourselves in the attractive position of being courted by many different suitors looking to get involved in the distribution of our films,” EuropaCorp CEO Marc Shmuger told Variety. He said he had a “high degree of confidence” in STX.

The new agreement does come with some pain. EuropaCorp will begin laying off the bulk of the staff and consultants involved in its theatrical distribution team on Tuesday, according to an individual with knowledge. That is estimated to be roughly 40 individuals who were employed by RED, a distribution and marketing joint venture that EuropaCorp maintained with Relativity. Staffers involved in television distribution and home entertainment will be retained.

Shmuger declined to comment on layoffs. He, however, did acknowledge that RED had its difficulties. Part of that had to do with Relativity’s bankruptcy in 2015 and its subsequent financial struggles, but it was clear that there were deeper issues that needed to be addressed.

“Clearly it was no secret that RED has been struggling with the theatrical performance of its films,” Shmuger said. “Whether it be Relativity or Europa releases, you had to look and wonder about their effectiveness. That’s been widely recognized in the industry, so we felt it was important to consider alternatives and to secure a safe landing place for ‘Valerian.'”

“Valerian” is adapted from the French science fiction comics series “Valérian and Laureline.” It returns Besson to the world of action and fantasy — genres where he previously scored with the likes of “The Fifth Element” and “Lucy.”

Shmuger said he was excited to bring STX on board because he has longstanding relationships with STX chairman Robert Simonds, Motion Picture Group president Oren Aviv, marketing president Eddie Egan, and Motion Picture Group chairman Adam Fogelson. Shmuger and Fogelson worked together at Universal, where both men previously oversaw the film studio, though at different times.

“There’s a shorthand,” Shmuger said while hailing STX for showing a “degree of passion” in its pitch to the EuropaCorp team.

In addition to “Valerian,” STX and EuropaCorp will partner on “The Circle,” starring Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, and John Boyega, and directed by James Ponsoldt; Lone Scherfig’s “Their Finest,” a romantic dramedy set in World War II Great Britain starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy; and “Renegades,” a heist adventure written by Besson and Richard Wenk, and directed by Steven Quale. STX will receive a fee for its work, while EuropaCorp will handle the promotion and advertising costs, according to insiders.

There has been some speculation that EuropaCorp will move “Valerian” from its July 21, 2017, release date to avoid going head-to-head with Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” However, the studio still plans to keep its initial release date.